A win for women athletes pushing back against sexist uniforms

in November 8th, 2021

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When women first participated in the Olympics in 1900, many were concerned they’d be a distraction to men. So to participate, women had to wear ankle-length dresses with long sleeves and high necks. Over a 100 years later, women’s sportswear is still being policed — but instead demanding the bare minimum coverage.

Up until recently, the International Handball Federation (IHF) required female participants to wear sports bras and bikini bottoms no longer than four inches on each side. Men are far less restricted with shorts and jerseys, but rules against women wearing the same are highly enforced even though female uniforms have created problems.

  • Some women have avoided competing as a result, such as those from Denmark and Norway who find the bikini bottoms uncomfortable and culturally insensitive. One player recalls a man in the audience at a prior match zooming in on players’ bikinis and recording.
  • A youth beach handball team faced sexual harassment from male players after being forced to play in the bikini bottoms. The players were aged 15-17 and raised vocal opposition, citing both the harassment and embarrassing game photos.

It wasn’t until after the Norwegian team was fined $1,740 this summer for competing in shorts that public outcry poured in, including a petition with over 61,000 signatures. The IHF later announced that players will no longer be required to wear bikini bottoms. 

That said, some argue the rules are still sexist. The official requirement now states that female athletes must wear “short, tight pants with a close fit” while males can still wear loose shorts as long as they’re “not too baggy.” In more progressive moves, Germany’s women’s gymnastics team unveiled long-legged unitards to stand against the sexualization of players. 

Take Action

While there’s still work to be done, find hope in these female athletes advocating for equality in sports.

Resource Center:

  • New York Times (Where we found this story) 8 days old | 4 minutes long
  • Independent Germany’s Progress 3 months old | 12 minutes long
  • New York Times Young girls forced to wear bikini bottoms 3 months old | 8 minutes long
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All these requirements can make you feel quite deflated :(

Art Credit: ASCII Art Archive

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